Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Debate rages over Hebrew charter school in NYC 

Two years after the debut of a controversial public school focusing on Arabic language and culture, a Hebrew language charter school is opening in New York City, stoking further debate about the purpose of a public school education.

Backers of the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, slated to open this fall, say it will appeal to diverse ethnic and religious groups and not just Jews. But critics here and elsewhere around the nation question whether public schools should celebrate one particular culture.

"They're trying to transmit cultural values and identity, and that's not the purpose of a public school," said Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit over a school in Minnesota that caters to Muslim students, and a Hebrew charter school in Florida has spurred debates over church-state separation.

New York City's Hebrew charter school is planned for the Mill Basin neighborhood of Brooklyn, which has a substantial number of Jews, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union but is three-quarters black, Hispanic and Asian.

Sara Berman, chairwoman of the school's board, said Jewish and non-Jewish students alike will benefit from learning Hebrew.

"We really believe that learning a second language helps children in other ways besides the language itself," she said, citing studies that suggest that language instruction stimulates brain development.

The state Board of Regents approved the Hebrew charter school on Jan. 13 with one dissenting vote.

"Any opportunity for your child to learn a second language, whether it's Hebrew or any other language, is beneficial," said Maureen Gonzalez-Campbell, the principal, who is African-American and speaks no Hebrew herself.

Gonzalez-Campbell, 48, said parents will be attracted to the charter school's low student-teacher ratio — there will be one English-speaking teacher and one Hebrew-speaking teacher in each classroom — and academic rigor.

The Hebrew charter school, which does not have a site yet, is due to open with 150 students in kindergarten and first grade and will grow to 450 in grades K-5.

Like other charter schools, it will be taxpayer-funded. But it expects to raise additional money from private donors and has commitments of $500,000 a year from philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and $250,000 a year from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.


Why do non-observant Russians need another school?

The kids marry out anyway, so why have a school?


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